ⓘ The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a 1974 American slasher film directed by Tobe Hooper and written and co-produced by Hooper and Kim Henkel. It stars Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow and Gunnar Hansen, who respectively portray Sally Hardesty, Franklin Hardesty, the hitchhiker, the proprietor, and Leatherface. The film follows a group of friends who fall victim to a family of cannibals while on their way to visit an old homestead. The film was marketed as being based on true events to attract a wider audience and to act as a subtle commentary on the eras political climate; although the character of Leatherface and minor story details were inspired by the crimes of murderer Ed Gein, its plot is largely fictional.
Hooper produced the film for less than $140.000 $700.000 adjusted for inflation and used a cast of relatively unknown actors drawn mainly from central Texas, where the film was shot. The limited budget forced Hooper to film for long hours seven days a week, so that he could finish as quickly as possible and reduce equipment rental costs. Due to the films violent content, Hooper struggled to find a distributor, but it was eventually aqcuired by Louis Perano of Bryanston Distributing Company. Hooper limited the quantity of onscreen gore in hopes of securing a PG rating, but the Motion Picture Association of America MPAA rated it R. The film faced similar difficulties internationally.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was banned in several countries, and numerous theaters stopped showing the film in response to complaints about its violence. While it initially drew a mixed reception from critics, it was highly profitable, grossing over $30 million at the domestic box office, equivalent with roughly over $150.8 million as of 2019, selling over 16.5 million tickets in 1974. It has since gained a reputation as one of the best and most influential horror films. It is credited with originating several elements common in the slasher genre, including the use of power tools as murder weapons, the characterization of the killer as a large, hulking, faceless figure, and the killing of victims. It led to a franchise that continued the story of Leatherface and his family through sequels, prequels, a remake, comic books and video games.
Sally Hardesty, her paraplegic brother Franklin, and their friends, Jerry, Kirk, and Pam visit the grave of the Hardestys grandfather to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. Afterwards, they decide to visit the old Hardesty family homestead. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker, who talks about his family who worked at the old slaughterhouse. He borrows Franklins pocket knife and cuts himself, then takes a single Polaroid picture of Franklin, for which he demands money. When they refuse to pay, he burns the photo, and slashes Franklins left arm with a straight razor. The group forces him out of the van and drive on. They stop at a gas station to refill their vehicle, but the proprietor tells them that the pumps are empty.
They continue toward the homestead, intending to return to the gas station once it has received a fuel delivery. When they arrive, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a local swimming-hole, and the couple go to find it. They stumble upon a nearby house, and Kirk calls out for gas, entering through the unlocked door, while Pam waits outside. Leatherface, a large mute man wearing a mask made from human skin, suddenly appears and kills Kirk with a hammer. Pam enters soon after, and trips into a room filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to flee, but Leatherface catches her, and impales her on a meathook, making her watch as he butchers Kirk with a chainsaw. Jerry heads out to look for Pam and Kirk at sunset. He sees the house and finds Pam, still alive, inside a freezer. Before he can react, Leatherface kills him.
With darkness falling, Sally and Franklin set out to find their friends. As they near the neighboring house and call out, Leatherface lunges from the darkness and kills Franklin with a chainsaw. Sally runs toward the house, and finds the desiccated remains of an elderly couple upstairs. She escapes from Leatherface by jumping through a second-floor window, and flees to the gas station. The proprietor calms her with offers of help, but then ties her up, gags her, and forces her into his truck. He drives to the house, arriving at the same time as the hitchhiker, now revealed as Leatherfaces brother. The hitchhiker recognizes Sally, and taunts her.
The men torment the bound and gagged Sally while Leatherface, now dressed as a woman, serves dinner. Leatherface and the hitchhiker bring down one of the desiccated bodies from upstairs, that of their Grandpa. He is revealed to be alive when he sucks blood from a cut on Sallys finger. They decide that Grandpa, the best killer in the old slaughterhouse, should kill Sally. He tries to hit her with a hammer, but he is too weak. In the ensuing struggle, she breaks free, leaps through a window, and flees to the road. Leatherface and the hitchhiker give chase, but the latter is run over and killed by a passing truck. Leatherface attacks the truck with his chainsaw, and when the driver stops to help he knocks Leatherface down with a pipe wrench, causing the chainsaw to cut his leg. The driver flees, and Sally escapes in the back of a passing pickup truck as Leatherface maniacally flails his chainsaw in the air in anger and defeat.
- Jim Siedow as the proprietor
- Paul A. Partain as Franklin Hardesty
- Allen Danziger as Jerry
- Edwin Neal as the hitchhiker
- Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface
- Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty
- Teri McMinn as Pam
- William Vail as Kirk
3.1. Production Development
The concept for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre arose in the early 1970s while Tobe Hooper was working as an assistant film director at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman. He had already developed a story involving the elements of isolation, the woods, and darkness. He credited the graphic coverage of violence by San Antonio news outlets as one inspiration for the film and based elements of the plot on murderer Ed Gein, who committed his crimes in 1950s Wisconsin; Gein inspired other horror films such as Psycho 1960 and The Silence of the Lambs 1991. During development, Hooper used the working titles of Headcheese and Leatherface.
Hooper has cited changes in the cultural and political landscape as central influences on the film. His intentional misinformation, that the "film you are about to see is true", was a response to being "lied to by the government about things that were going on all over the world", including Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, and "the massacres and atrocities in the Vietnam War". The "lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things" that Hooper noticed while watching the local news, whose graphic coverage was epitomized by "showing brains spilled all over the road", led to his belief that "man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face, so I put a literal mask on the monster in my film". The idea of using a chainsaw as the murder weapon came to Hooper while he was in the hardware section of a busy store, contemplating how to speed his way through the crowd.
Hooper and Kim Henkel cowrote the screenplay and formed Vortex, Inc. with Henkel as president and Hooper as vice president. They asked Bill Parsley, a friend of Hooper, to provide funding. Parsley formed a company named MAB, Inc. through which he invested $60.000 in the production. In return, MAB owned 50% of the film and its profits. Production manager Ron Bozman told most of the cast and crew that he would have to defer part of their salaries until after it was sold to a distributor. Vortex made the idea more attractive by awarding them a share of its potential profits, ranging from 0.25 to 6%, similar to mortgage points. The cast and crew were not informed that Vortex owned only 50%, which meant their points were worth half of the assumed value.
3.2. Production Casting
Many of the cast members at the time were relatively unknown actors - Texans who had played roles in commercials, television, and stage shows, as well as performers whom Hooper knew personally, such as Allen Danziger and Jim Siedow. Involvement in the film propelled some of them into the motion picture industry. The lead role of Sally was given to Marilyn Burns, who had appeared previously on stage and served on the film commission board at UT Austin while studying there. Teri McMinn was a student who worked with local theater companies, including the Dallas Theater Center. Henkel called McMinn to come in for a reading after he spotted her picture in the Austin American-Statesman. For her last call-back he requested that she wear short shorts, which proved to be the most comfortable of all the cast members costumes.
Icelandic-American actor Gunnar Hansen was selected for the role of Leatherface. He regarded Leatherface as being mentally retarded and having never learned to speak properly. To research his character in preparation for his role, Hansen visited a special needs school and watched how the students moved and spoke. John Larroquette performed the narration in the opening credits.
3.3. Production Filming
The primary filming location was an early 1900s farmhouse located on Quick Hill Road near Round Rock, Texas, where the La Frontera development is now located. The small budget and concerns over high-cost equipment rentals meant the crew filmed seven days a week, up to 16 hours a day. The environment was humid and the cast and crew found conditions tough; temperatures peaked at 110°F 43 °C on July 26. Hansen later recalled, "It was 95, 100 degrees every day during filming. They wouldnt wash my costume because they were worried that the laundry might lose it, or that it would change color. They didnt have enough money for a second costume. So I wore that, and I guess that, in a way, we got what we deserved." They signed the contract with Bryanston and, after the investors recouped their money with interest, - and after Skaaren, the lawyers, and the accountants were paid - only $8.100 about $42.000 inflation-adjusted was left to be divided among the 20 cast and crew members. Eventually the producers sued Bryanston for failing to pay them their full percentage of the box office profits. A court judgment instructed Bryanston to pay the filmmakers $500.000 about $2.600.000 inflation-adjusted, but by then the company had declared bankruptcy. In 1983 New Line Cinema acquired the distribution rights from Bryanston and gave the producers a larger share of the profits.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre premiered in Austin, Texas, on October 1, 1974, almost a year after filming concluded. It screened nationally in the United States as a Saturday afternoon matinee and its false marketing as a "true story" helped it attract a broad audience. For eight years after 1976, it was annually reissued to first-run theaters, promoted by full-page ads. The film eventually grossed more than $30 million in the United States and Canada $14.4 million in rentals, making it the 12th highest-grossing film initially released in 1974, despite its minuscule budget. Among independent films, it was overtaken in 1978 by John Carpenters Halloween, which grossed $47 million.
Hooper reportedly hoped that the Motion Picture Association of America MPAA would give the complete, uncut release print a "PG" rating due to its minimal amount of visible gore. Instead, it was originally rated "X". After several minutes were cut, it was resubmitted to the MPAA and received an "R" rating. A distributor apparently restored the offending material, and at least one theater presented the full version under an "R". In San Francisco, cinema-goers walked out of theaters in disgust and in February 1976, two theaters in Ottawa, Canada, were advised by local police to withdraw the film lest they face morality charges.
After its initial British release, including a one-year theatrical run in London, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was initially banned on the advice of British Board of Film Censors BBFC Secretary Stephen Murphy, and subsequently by his successor, James Ferman. While the British ban was in force the word "chainsaw" itself was barred from movie titles, forcing imitators to rename their films. In 1998, despite the BBFC ban, Camden London Borough Council granted the film a license. The following year the BBFC passed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for release with an 18 certificate indicating that it should not be seen or purchased by a person under 18, and it was broadcast a year later on Channel 4.
The Australian censors refused to classify the 83-minute version of the film in June 1975; the board similarly refused classification of a 77-minute print in December that year. In 1981, an 83-minute version submitted by Greater Union Organization Film Distributors was again refused registration. It was later submitted by Filmways Australia and approved for an "R" rating in 1984. It was banned for periods in many other countries, including Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and West Germany. In Sweden, it would also symbolize a video nasty, a discussed topic at the time.
5.1. Reception Critical response
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre received a mixed reaction upon its initial release. Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times called it "despicable" and described Henkel and Hooper as more concerned with creating a realistic atmosphere than with its "plastic script". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said it was "as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises", yet praised its acting and technical execution. Donald B. Berrigan of The Cincinnati Enquirer praised the lead performance of Burns: "Marilyn Burns, as Sally, deserves a special Academy Award for one of the most sustained and believable acting achievements in movie history." Patrick Taggart of the Austin American-Statesman hailed it as the most important horror film since George A. Romeros Night of the Living Dead 1968. Variety found the picture to be well-made, despite what it called the "heavy doses of gore". John McCarty of Cinefantastique stated that the house featured in the film made the Bates motel "look positively pleasant by comparison". Revisiting the film in his 1976 article "Fashions in Pornography" for Harpers Magazine, Stephen Koch found its sadistic violence to be extreme and unimaginative.
Critics later frequently praised both the films aesthetic quality and its power. Observing that it managed to be "horrifying without being a bloodbath youll see more gore in a Steven Seagal film", Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle called it "a backwoods masterpiece of fear and loathing". TV Guide thought it was "intelligent" in its "bloodless depiction of violence", while Anton Bitel felt the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom was a tribute to its artistry. He pointed out how the quiet sense of foreboding at the beginning of the film grows, until the viewer experiences "a punishing assault on the senses". In Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema, Scott Von Doviak commended its effective use of daylight shots, unusual among horror films, such as the sight of a corpse draped over a tombstone in the opening sequence. Mike Emery of The Austin Chronicle praised the films "subtle touches" - such as radio broadcasts heard in the background describing grisly murders around Texas - and said that what made it so dreadful was that it never strayed too far from potential reality.
It has often been described as one of the scariest films of all time. Rex Reed called it the most terrifying film he had ever seen. Empire described it as "the most purely horrifying horror movie ever made" and called it "never less than totally committed to scaring you witless". Reminiscing about his first viewing of the film, horror director Wes Craven recalled wondering "what kind of Mansonite crazoid" could have created such a thing. It is a work of "cataclysmic terror", in the words of horror novelist Stephen King, who declared, "I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country." Critic Robin Wood found it one of the few horror films to possess "the authentic quality of nightmare".
Based on 59 reviews published since 2000, the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of critics gave it a positive review, with an average score of 7.89/10. The sites critical consensus states, "Thanks to a smart script and documentary-style camerawork, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre achieves start-to-finish suspense, making it a classic in low-budget exploitation cinema."
5.2. Reception Cultural impact
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is considered one of the greatest - and most controversial - horror films of all time, and a major influence on the genre. In 1999, Richard Zoglin of Time commented that it had "set a new standard for slasher films". The Times listed it as one of the 50 most controversial films of all time. Tony Magistrale believes the film paved the way for horror to be used as a vehicle for social commentary. Describing it as "cheap, grubby and out of control", Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times declared that it "both defines and entirely supersedes the very notion of the exploitation picture". In his book Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film, David Hogan called it "the most affecting gore thriller of all and, in a broader view, among the most effective horror films ever made. the driving force of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is something far more horrible than aberrant sexuality: total insanity." According to Bill Nichols, it "achieves the force of authentic art, profoundly disturbing, intensely personal, yet at the same time far more than personal". Leonard Wolf praised the film as "an exquisite work of art" and compared it to a Greek tragedy, noting the lack of onscreen violence.
Leatherface has gained a reputation as a significant character in the horror genre, responsible for establishing the use of conventional tools as murder weapons and the image of a large, silent killer devoid of personality. Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com said, "In our collective consciousness, Leatherface and his chainsaw have become as iconic as Freddy and his razors or Jason and his hockey mask." Don Sumner called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a classic that not only introduced a new villain to the horror pantheon but also influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. According to Rebecca Ascher-Walsh of Entertainment Weekly, it laid the foundations for the Halloween, Evil Dead, and Blair Witch horror franchises. Wes Craven crafted his 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes as an homage to Massacre, while Ridley Scott cited Hoopers film as an inspiration for his 1979 film Alien. French director Alexandre Aja credited it as an early influence on his career. Horror filmmaker and heavy metal musician Rob Zombie sees it as a major influence on his work, including his films House of 1000 Corpses 2003 and The Devils Rejects 2005.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was selected for the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Directors Fortnight and London Film Festival. In 1976, it won the Special Jury Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film sixth on its 2003 list of "The Top 50 Cult Films". In a 2005 Total Film poll, it was selected as the greatest horror film of all time. It was named among Time s top 25 horror films in 2007. In 2008 the film ranked number 199 on Empire magazines list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire also ranked it 46th in its list of the 50 greatest independent films. In a 2010 Total Film poll, it was again selected as the greatest horror film; the judging panel included veteran horror directors such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and George A. Romero. In 2010, as well, The Guardian ranked it number 14 on its list of the top 25 horror films. It was also voted the greatest horror film of all time in Slant Magazine s 2013 list of the greatest horror films of all time. It was also voted the scariest movie of all time in a 2017 list by Complex and voted the best horror movie of all time in a 2017 list by Thrillist. It was also voted the scariest movie of all time in a 2018 list by Consequence of Sound and voted the best horror movie of all time in a 2018 list by Esquire.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was inducted into the Horror Hall of Fame in 1990, with director Hooper accepting the award, and it is part of the permanent collection of New York Citys Museum of Modern Art. In 2012, the film was named by critics in the British Film Institutes Sight & Sound magazine as one of the 250 greatest films. The Academy Film Archive houses the Texas Chain Saw Massacre collection, which contains over 50 items in a collection representing many original elements of the film.
6.1. Themes and analysis Contemporary American life
Critic Christopher Sharrett argues that since Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho 1960 and The Birds 1963, the American horror film has been defined by the questions it poses "about the fundamental validity of the American civilizing process", concerns amplified during the 1970s by the "delegitimation of authority in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate". "If Psycho began an exploration of a new sense of absurdity in contemporary life, of the collapse of causality and the diseased underbelly of American Gothic", he writes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre "carries this exploration to a logical conclusion, addressing many of the issues of Hitchcocks film while refusing comforting closure".
Robin Wood characterizes Leatherface and his family as victims of industrial capitalism, their jobs as slaughterhouse workers having been rendered obsolete by technological advances. He states that the picture "brings to focus a spirit of negativity. that seems to lie not far below the surface of the modern collective consciousness". Naomi Merritt explores the films representation of "cannibalistic capitalism" in relation to Georges Batailles theory of taboo and transgression. She elaborates on Woods analysis, stating that the Sawyer familys values "reflect, or correspond to, established and interdependent American institutions. but their embodiment of these social units is perverted and transgressive."
In Kim Newmans view, Hoopers presentation of the Sawyer family during the dinner scene parodies a typical American sitcom family: the gas station owner is the bread-winning father figure; the killer Leatherface is depicted as a bourgeois housewife; the hitchhiker acts as the rebellious teenager. Isabel Cristina Pinedo, author of Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing, states, "The horror genre must keep terror and comedy in tension if it is to successfully tread the thin line that separates it from terrorism and parody. this delicate balance is struck in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in which the decaying corpse of Grandpa not only incorporates horrific and humorous effects, but actually uses one to exacerbate the other."
6.2. Themes and analysis Violence against women
The underlying themes of the film have been the subject of extensive critical discussion; critics and scholars have interpreted it as a paradigmatic exploitation film in which female protagonists are subjected to brutal, sadistic violence. Stephen Prince comments that the horror is "born of the torment of the young woman subjected to imprisonment and abuse amid decaying arms. and mobiles made of human bones and teeth." As with many horror films, it focuses on the "final girl" trope - the heroine and inevitable lone survivor who somehow escapes the horror that befalls the other characters: Sally Hardesty is wounded and tortured, yet manages to survive with the help of a male truck driver. Critics argue that even in exploitation films in which the ratio of male and female deaths is roughly equal, the images that linger will be of the violence committed against the female characters. The specific case of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre provides support for this argument: three men are killed in quick fashion, but one woman is brutally slaughtered - hung on a meathook - and the surviving woman endures physical and mental torture. In 1977, critic Mary Mackey described the meathook scene as probably the most brutal onscreen female death in any commercially distributed film. She placed it in a lineage of violent films that depict women as weak and incapable of protecting themselves.
In one study, a group of men were shown five films depicting differing levels of violence against women. On first viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre they experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety; however, upon subsequent viewing they found the violence against women less offensive and more enjoyable. Another study, investigating gender-specific perceptions of slasher films, involved 30 male and 30 female university students. One male participant described the screaming, especially Sallys, as the "most freaky thing" in the film.
According to Jesse Stommel of Bright Lights Film Journal, the lack of explicit violence in the film forces viewers to question their own fascination with violence that they play a central role in imagining. Nonetheless - citing its feverish camera moves, repeated bursts of light, and auditory pandemonium - Stommel asserts that it involves the audience primarily on a sensory rather than an intellectual level.
6.3. Themes and analysis Vegetarianism
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been described as "the ultimate pro-vegetarian film" due to its animal rights themes. In a video essay, film critic Rob Ager describes the irony in humans being slaughtered for meat, putting humans in the position of being slaughtered like farm animals. Director Tobe Hooper has confirmed that "its a film about meat" and even gave up meat while making the film, saying, "In a way I thought the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings." Writer-director Guillermo Del Toro became a vegetarian for a time after seeing the film.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has appeared on various home video formats. In the US, it was first released on videotape and CED in the early 1980s by Wizard Video and Vestron Video. The British Board of Film Classification had long since refused a certification for the uncut theatrical version and in 1984 they also refused to certify it for home video, amid a moral panic surrounding "video nasties". After the retirement of BBFC Director James Ferman in 1999, the board passed the film uncut for theatrical and video distribution with an 18 certificate, almost 25 years after the original release. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was initially released on DVD in October 1998 in the United States, May 2000 in the United Kingdom and 2001 in Australia.
In 2005 the film received a 2K scan and full restoration from the original 16mm A/B rolls, which was subsequently released on DVD and Blu-ray. In 2014 a more extensive 4K restoration, supervised by Hooper, using the original 16mm A/B reversal rolls, was carried out. After a screening in the Directors Fortnight section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, this was also released on DVD and Blu-ray worldwide. Dark Sky Films US 40th Anniversary Edition was nominated for Best DVD/BD Special Edition Release at the 2015 Saturn Awards.
In 1982, shortly after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre established itself as a success on US home video, Wizard Video released a mass-market video game adaptation for the Atari 2600. In the game, the player assumes the role of Leatherface and attempts to murder trespassers while avoiding obstacles such as fences and cow skulls. As one of the first horror-themed video games, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre caused controversy when it was first released due to its violent nature; it sold poorly as a result, because many game stores refused to stock it.
The film has been followed by seven other films to date, including sequels, prequels and remakes. The first sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 1986, was considerably more graphic and violent than the original and was banned in Australia for 20 years before it was released on DVD in a revised special edition in October 2006. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III 1990 was the second sequel to appear, though Hooper did not return to direct due to scheduling conflicts with another film, Spontaneous Combustion. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, starring Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, was released in 1995. While briefly acknowledging the events of the preceding two sequels, its plot makes it a virtual remake of the 1974 original. A straight remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was released by Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema in 2003. It was followed by a prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, in 2006. A seventh film, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was released on January 4, 2013. It is a direct sequel to the original 1974 film, with no relation to the previous sequels, or the 2003 remake. Another prequel, Leatherface, was released exclusively to DirecTV on September 21, 2017, before receiving a wider release on video on demand and in limited theaters, simultaneously, in North America on October 20, 2017.